Saturday, January 27, 2007

Unexpected communion with his rather arresting eyes

Anand Rangarajan 01.17.2007 permalink
I decided (with the help of my cousin) to visit both the Ramana Maharishi and Sri Aurobindo ashrams. They are not that far from each other and so it was easy to first go to Tiruvannamalai, visit the Ramana Maharishi ashram, stay the night and then head to Pondicherry and visit the Sri Aurobindo (and The Mother's) ashram.
For those not in the know, Ramana Maharishi was an Indian mystic who is famous for his ”Who am I?” self inquiry approach. You can always gauge your progress in meditation (and spirituality) by trying to discover what Ramana Maharishi meant by his statement “That which does not occur in deep [and dreamless] sleep is not real.” Since nothing whatsoever occurs in deep, dreamless sleep, what could this statement mean? Since I've never had this experience, I can only conjecture that Ramana Maharishi wants us to maintain awareness in deep, dreamless sleep. Maintaining awareness during waking hours leads to awareness of thoughts and feelings, maintaining awareness in REM sleep leads to lucid dreaming, but maintaining awareness in deep sleep leads to ???? You know that you have some ways to go if you have never had a moment of awareness during deep sleep - assuming that such a state of mind is even possible.
The ashram in Tiruvannamalai is well maintained. It has two meditation halls - a big hall with a shrine and a smaller one which is more intimate. The place was packed when we went there and had a mix of about 50% Indians and 50% foreigners. Unfortunately, while the ashram is quiet and serene, Tiruvannamalai is a mess. Too many people living in squalor and in unhygenic conditions. The roads are dirty and littered. It looks like the leadership of the ashram has made no attempt to extend their disciplined habits to the village beyond their borders. We did the 13km walk around the Arunachala mountain - a GiriValam - and while I tried to maintain awareness during the trek, I cannot say that I felt any subtle energies . However my chronic racking cough (due to a dust allergy) did subside. Was that due to the endorphin releasing walk or the subtle energies of Mount Arunachala or both? Who knows?
Sri Aurobindo was a contemporary of Ramana Maharishi and was also an Indian mystic. He is well known for trying to integrate evolution and consciousness along lines similar (but not identical) to Teilhard de Chardin. Aurobindo and Ramana died in the same year - 1950 - but never met since Aurobindo could not leave Pondicherry - a French colony - at that time. (He would have been arrested and imprisoned by the British if he had.) The crucial extra element that Aurobindo brought to Indian philosophy/mysticism is a collective aspect of spirit. While he describes communion, union and identity with Spirit in a manner that is similar to Vedanta, he later articulates the descent of the Supermind along with the creation of a new Man and a new advanced society. The Mother (Mirra Alfassa) attempted to carry out this program and helped found Auroville - a model for such an advanced society. In recent times, this theme has been further developed in a (constructive) postmodern direction by Ken Wilber and his followers.
The ashram in Pondicherry is also immaculate. Due to The Mother's influence, it has beautiful floral arrangements. In contrast to Ramana Maharishi's ashram, it has much smaller meditation spaces (at least public ones). Through some contacts, we managed to get passes to go to the upper floor of the ashram and observe the living quarters of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother since these have been preserved. You're greeted by the exhortation “Cling to the Truth” as you climb the stairs. I tried to meditate while sitting in the presence of Aurobindo's portrait and was rewarded with an unexpected communion with his rather arresting eyes when I opened my own and looked up after the meditation. The area surrounding the ashram is very well kept and maintained - in sharp contrast to the squalor in Tiruvannamalai - and this is no doubt due to the “descent of the Supermind” community-centric philosophy and The Mother's influence. The meditation areas left much to be desired though.
In conclusion, and on a somewhat downbeat note, I felt that these spirits had really departed. Both ashrams have a mausoleum-like feel and no new leaders with anything close to these personalities have emerged. Tough act to follow I must admit. I'm going to check out Auroville the next time I'm in India. Tagged with: Ramana Maharishi, Sri Aurobindo, The Mother, Mirra Alfassa, Tiruvannamalai, Pondicherry, Supermind, Auroville, meditation, awareness, evolution, de Chardin, Ken Wilber

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